I can’t even begin to describe the elation I felt when I received my acceptance to Wesleyan. I grew up in a conservative area, and while I enjoyed being in my comfort zone around people who share my ideologies, I was eager to get out into the world and learn about new perspectives while still maintaining my own. In my mind, liberal arts schools were places of intellectual discussion, where Democrats and Republicans could talk about their political opinions openly and have mutual respect for one another. I guess one could say I was an incredibly naïve high school senior.
In the short time that I have been a student here at the University, I can’t say that I have felt accepted by others in regard to my political alignment. Yes, I am a Republican. When I told my peers I was writing this article, the most common response I received was, “Do you want everyone to hate you?” If this doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does. Wesleyan is supposed to be a place where students are open and inclusive of others. Unfortunately, it seems that adage only applies to people who share the same ideas.
I first encountered the negativity that apparently comes with identifying as a conservative during orientation. When I revealed myself to be religious to my new friend, I was asked if that meant I was also a Republican. When I answered yes, the boy seemed very happy and said that while he was not a Republican, he was glad he had one to talk to. The next thing he said was, “Aren’t gender norms great?” Shocked that someone would say something like that, I told him that I most definitely did not agree, to which he said, “But you just said you’re a Republican.” I found that in every conversation we shared afterward, he thought it was acceptable to make sexist comments and justify them by pointing out that I’m a Republican, as if that were a concrete reason to say such things in front of me. He never asked why I identify as a Republican or what I think of certain policies. He simply equated the party with misogyny.
Furthermore, I was eating lunch with another student whom I had met during my first week at the University. When I revealed that I am a conservative, a look of horror formed on her face. I quickly said that everyone should be entitled to their own opinion, to which she responded, “Yes, but not when yours is wrong.” Obviously insulted by this, I asked her to elaborate and she said that being a Republican means that I hate gay marriage and love Trump. I explained that this is a myth; many Republicans such as myself are not, in fact, opposed to gay marriage. Furthermore, many, myself included, are not voting for Trump and will be voting for Hillary Clinton instead, as we do not want someone possessing so much hatred to be in the White House. My friend then asked why I registered as a Republican, and I told her that while I do disagree with many aspects of the platform, my views ultimately align with the party. When I began to explain why I am fiscally conservative, she interrupted, saying, “Oh, I don’t really care about that kind of stuff.”
We’ve come to a point in time where liberalism has become viewed as a synonym for being humane while conservatism is equated with hostility. Since this is my first year on campus, I have no way of knowing if this stems from the fact that Donald Trump is (unfortunately) the Republican presidential candidate. I’ve come to realize that people don’t care about why I am conservative. All that matters to them is the fact that I am a conservative. Students here have to understand that people have their reasons for voting a certain way. While I identify as center-right on the political spectrum, others seem to think that identifying as a conservative means I am on the far, far right and that I adore Trump. Thankfully, I have met some students who are genuinely interested in having discussions and want to know more about my views. However, that group is far exceeded by the amount of people who have made offensive comments.
In President Roth’s State of the School Address, he said that it is a shame that conservative students on campus often feel marginalized. Wesleying live-blogged the speech and ridiculed him for discussing how conservatives feel when he should have been focusing on minority groups. The fact is, President Roth was not trying to belittle others’ struggles. He was simply discussing another aspect of the school. This, however, did not sit well with students, which is exactly the reason why Roth felt the need to bring it up.
I’m not saying that all Republicans feel the way I do. Many are homophobic, racist, sexist, supporters of Donald Trump, and I would be lying if I said I had never met anyone who thought this way. Still, it is wrong to make generalizations about the whole party and assume that all Republicans are bad people.
I don’t expect people to become Republicans simply by reading this, and by no means do I want them to become Republicans. I can understand why people are Democrats and I have nothing but respect for them, because everyone should be able to express their viewpoints. We all deserve respect from our peers that is independent from the popularity of our political beliefs within a particular environment.
Zenilman is a member of the class of 2020.